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Hope, Outrage and Courage on the First Anniversary of Brumadinho Dam Disaster

On 24 January, the eve of the first anniversary of mining company Vale’s crimes in Brumadinho, human rights defender Leonardo Boff expressed his solidarity with the 270 victims and their families.

The theologian, philosopher and writer participated in an international seminar, ‘One year after the crime committed by Vale in Brumadinho’, organized by the Brazilian Movement of People Affected by Dams [1] (MAB) in Betim, Minas Gerais. This was part of the ‘March of Peoples Affected’, which travelled 300 kilometers across the State to denounce the crimes committed by Vale following the collapse of the Mariana (2015) and Brumadinho (2019) dams. The march ended in Brumadinho on 25 January.

Boff highlighted how social movements in Brazil are resisting. Groups of women, peasants, black people and affected peoples are coming together to discuss the current, ‘unsustainable’ development model, which is underpinned by social injustice (with over half the population starving) and environmental injustice (including climate imbalance, soil and water pollution, etc).

“The main crisis of humanity is inequality: the lack of sympathy with other peoples’ suffering. We went from a market economy to a market society, and it seems that everything can be bought and sold. If we continue along this path, we won’t make it to 2050,” said Boff. He warned: “Either we take care of our common home, without relying on easy fixes, or we will witness the death of millions of people. Our lives should be a great adventure on this planet, not suffering and sacrifice.”

Boff called on people to be creative in thinking of alternatives to this model which take in to account human needs for energy, food and wellbeing. He highlighted MAB as an example of peoples working together creatively for energy sovereignty. He also highlighted the Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra [2]MST), for exercising the Right to occupy lands to live, work and produce, and the “brave Mapuche people” who defend their territories and resist the installation of hydroelectric dams.

“This globalized model no longer works. It is facing a deep internal crisis. It punishes millions of people and concentrates wealth, without taking into account that planet Earth is not a bottomless pit of ‘goods and services’ which we can extract indefinitely. There is a limit,” said Boff. “Soil fertility, water, forests – these are all finite. We need to fight with hope, outrage and courage.”

Representatives of international organizations such as the Latin American Movement of People Affected by Dams [3] (MAR), the Italian Water Movement, the Workers and Peasants Platform for Energy [4], and Brazil Popular Front [5] (Frente Brasil Popular, FBP), which is part of the Education Workers’ Union, also participated in the seminar.

Deyvid Bacelar, from the Platform, announced that oil sector workers will go on indefinite strike from February 1st to resist the Petrobras privatization process planned by President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. They will demonstrate to defend energy sovereignty against the corporate profits that would be generated by the company solely for transnational interests.

Denise de Paula Romano remembered Giuliana, a teacher and FBP member who died alongside her husband in the Brumadinho dam collapse:

“On 25 January 2019, 270 people left their homes to go to work and never came back. Profits cannot be put above lives. We can’t just normalize the death of 20 people in Mariana or the 272* deaths in Brumadinho.”

Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Soler, from MAR, said that during the march they were able to verify that Vale is a “criminal company” that could have avoided the crimes caused by the lack of security in the mines and dams, but instead “did nothing.” He also made reference to the “criminal silence” of COPASA, the local water utility company who failed to respond to affected peoples that came to their offices asking for information about the state of water pollution.

On 23 January, as part of the march activities, approximately 350 people blocked the rail tracks of company MRS Logística in Betim, Minas Gerais, to demand that the company respects 25 January as a day of mourning. A few hours later, MRS, which is a third-party service of Vale, announced that they would not work on that day, including not transporting mining products.

While relatives and affected peoples demand justice and repercussions for those responsible, Vale halved the emergency aid funds received by 93,000 out of the 108,000 affected peoples. At the same time, in the week before the first anniversary of Brumadinho, the company spent 79,000,000 reais in advertising to ‘wash’ its image.


Justice is slow, but sure?

On 21 January, the Minas Gerais Public Prosecutor’s Office charged 16 people with homicide of 270 people and environmental crimes following the collapse of Dam 1 at the Córrego de Feijao mine. These were 11 members of Vale S.A., including executives, planning and geotechnics managers, and five members of German company Tüv Süd, including its general manager and technical consultants.

These environmental crimes include loss of agriculture in the region, destruction of native flora and fauna and animals and plants from the Atlantic Forest Biome, and water pollution that caused a shortage of drinking water for local communities. The MAB estimates that 944,000 people were affected.

In order to charge Vale, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Civil Police of Minas Gerais took statements from 183 people, among them people under investigation, witnesses and survivors, and they analyzed 94 electronic devices containing almost six million digital files. The information gathered shows a “promiscuous relationship between the two companies charged, that hid the unacceptable security conditions of several of Vale´s mining dams from public authorities, society, shareholders and investors.” In this statement, issued on 21 January, the Public Prosecutor’s Office stated: “With the support of Tüv Süd, Vale kept a ‘black box’ with information about the geotechnical risks of its tailing dams in order to give a false sense of security as a mining company, avoiding at any cost impacts on their reputation, and consequently, becoming a world leader in terms of  market value.”

(*) People speak of 272 deaths in Brumadinho, as two of the 270 people were pregnant at the time of death.